TRAILBLAZER: ‘Peer magic’ helps newcomers connect in Canada

·4 min read

Soumya Sharma landed in Vancouver as a new immigrant two years ago, just as tens of thousands of Canadians were being thrown out of work due to pandemic-induced lockdowns.

“I had no connections and spent my days browsing the web to look for jobs and new immigrants who could help show me the way,” said the human-resources professional from Delhi, India.

“It was a stressful phase in my life as I faced over 270 rejections from potential employers and I had to take on any job that could help me survive,” Sharma told New Canadian Media.

But that soon changed, when Sharma came across a fledgling immigrant peer networking operation run by veteran immigration advocate, Nick Noorani.

One of the mentors, Sharma met through the networking operation connected him to a job.

Today, he is an ambassador for the Immigrant Networks program helping other new Canadians connect, just as Noorani helped him to do.

“As an ambassador, I can provide insights for new immigrants on what to expect in the job market and in return I will continue to extend my network, a perfect win-win situation for all,” said Sharma.

For Shreeya Shakya from Nepal, moving to Canada during the pandemic posed a huge challenge to connect with people who shared her professional background.

“I joined Immigrant Networks soon after I started my job search process, and it was one of the best choices I made,” said Shakya, now a project manager for a Vancouver-based digital company. “Immigrant Networks matched me with professionals from my sector and it provided me valuable information about the job market, ways to approach the job search, and most importantly a lot of encouragement and hope.”

Like Sharma, she has gone on to be an Immigrant Networks Ambassador “to share our journeys, learnings, and support newcomers to Canada.”

Sharma and Shakya are among the 4,000 matches made by the Immigrant Networks program in the first year of its free operations, said Noorani. (Full disclosure: Noorani is a member of NCM’s board of directors.)

“Immigrant Networks is my pandemic baby,” said Noorani, who put up a post at the height of the pandemic on LinkedIn offering jobless immigrants a one-on-one chat with him.

“In a few weeks, 26 of the original group were employed… We did 4,000 matches in our first year…we now have 15 ambassadors across Canada from different professions and they help the newbies.”

According to a Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey recent immigrants were more likely than the Canadian-born to lose their jobs. When the pandemic hit, the transition to unemployment increased for all three groups included in the study: immigrants who had arrived in Canada within the last 10 years, immigrants who had arrived in Canada more than 10 years ago, and those born in Canada.

Noorani’s proprietary platform aims to fix this issue by empowering every immigrant and international student with networking skills so that they aren’t left behind.

If the numbers of those who have participated in the program so far, are anything to go by, the platform has been hugely successful.

According to a survey conducted by Immigrant Networks, 75 per cent of respondents said the peer connections helped them find a job while 90 per cent of respondents who had four or more conversations with mentors, found jobs in their preferred fields.

Buoyed by the success, Noorani is planning to expand his ‘peer magic’ in a partnership with Peace Geeks, a non-profit organization that builds digital tools to empower communities.

“In the fall, Immigrant Networks Australia will launch as we try to get this program into more countries with significant immigrant populations,” said Noorani, who is celebrating 24-years in Canada this month.

As Canada prepares to welcome thousands of Ukrainian and Afghan refugees in addition to more than 1.3 million newcomers over the next three years, experts say that the need for peer networks to help immigrants is now more important than ever.

Kelly Acheson, Communications Specialist with World Education News, in a recent article said immigration and peer networks, “bring advocates together, effectively pooling resources in support of a common cause.”

“At the national and local levels, networks connect diverse partners, reduce silos, and encourage the sharing of practices and industrial know-how needed to successfully advance immigrant and refugee inclusion efforts and policies.”

A study done by the University of Toronto last year found that many new immigrants rely heavily on informal peer networks to pursue avenues of success within an unfamiliar and inadequate system.

Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), as part of its 2022-2023 Departmental Plan, has reaffirmed its commitment to support newcomers to integrate successfully into Canadian society.

The IRCC funds more than 500 service provider organizations to assist immigrants, including refugees, to overcome barriers specific to the newcomer experience, both prior to arrival and after landing in Canada.

Fabian Dawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Canadian Media

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